Gardening Question of the Day

I've heard that "fire days" are when you can cut thistle and it won't come back up. Is this true, and what are the days?

Thistle is a stickler, for sure. Unfortunately, the best way to rid your lawn of it is to do some serious work involving mulch to smother it -- a plastic mulch for the warm-season thistle crop and shredded paper mulch for the cool-season crop. A three-inch-thick layer or more of straw will also smother it. Thistle can lie dormant for three to four years, so you have to be diligent and consistent at least that long. In addition to mulching, plow the garden deeply in the fall. Don't rototil at anytime if you can help it; this can spread the plant further. Cut thistle at its base at the onset of flowering, whenever you see it.

Last 7 Days

    I've heard that turning soil in your garden at night might be a way to control weeds. Is this true?

    Research indicates that weeds may be stimulated to grow by a sudden flash of light, which is what you give them when you turn the soil over during the day. A German study concluded that by turning the soil at night, weed germination could be reduced by as much as 78 percent. You can try this method by working during a moonlit night, or at dawn or dusk.

    How can we keep armadillos from digging up our yard in North Alabama?

    An armadillo can tear up a lawn in one night, but experts offer little hope for trying to prevent the creatures from doing so! Wildlife experts advise home owners in the South to treat armadillos as they would other wild animals -- in other words, don't go messing with them yourself. They can carry infectious diseases (leprosy being one of them!) and they have extremely strong claws. Armadillos have no teeth and poor eyesight but a strong sense of smell. They can dig up to 15 feet down in search of insects, ants, spiders, larvae, frogs, and other invertebrates that make up their diet. They love digging up yards, golf courses, vegetable gardens, and flower beds. The three best methods for controlling them are shooting, trapping, and excluding, and we don't recommend the shooting part. Armadillos can be captured in box traps set along fences and pathways where they walk. Low fences leaning out at a 40-degree angle can keep armadillos from entering an area. There are no poisons or repellents recommended for control. Armadillos are found only throughout the South, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. The South's high temperatures, humidity, and sandy loam soils create the perfect habitat for armadillos.

    What conditions does a neem tree require for growth?

    The neem tree, called melia, is a deciduous tree native to Asia and Australia and is grown for its pretty foliage and flowers. It has several common names: chinaberry, bead tree, Indian lilac, and pride of India. It grows fast and can reach 35 to 50 feet. The pits of the small yellow berries it produces are used in some countries to make rosaries or altar decorations, but the berries are poisonous to humans. An interesting variety of the chinaberry, called umbraculiformis, or Texas umbrella tree, grows 25 to 30 feet high and forms a dense, umbrella-shaped crown of branches. Chinaberries can be grown in mild climates only. They need a sunny, sheltered location. They can be grown in almost any deep soil, even one that is alkaline; however, sandy loam that is kept moist throughout the summer is the best.

    My lilac bushes didn't bloom last year. Is there something I can do to get them to bloom? Also, when is the best time to cut them back so they don't get too leggy?

    Lilacs appreciate a light application of wood ashes in the fall. Mostly, they need full sun and good drainage. Usually, the only pruning they need comes from picking the flowers (with an eye to the shape of the shrub), but if you feel you must prune, do so just after the flowering season and take out a few of the oldest stems. Avoid a lot of fertilizer, and be patient -- maybe this year will be a better lilac year for you!

    We've had trouble with moss taking over parts of our lawn. How can we stop this from happening this summer?

    Overgrowth of moss in a lawn is a sign of poor drainage and acidity. Start improving those features by aerating the lawn and spreading lime on it.

    Can Epsom salts help my pepper plants?

    Some folks swear that Epsom salts can benefit many plants and is a good soil additive at the beginning of the season. It can help your regular plant food work better by providing secondary nutrients such as magnesium and sulfur. When starting a garden, sprinkle approximately 1 cup of Epsom salts per 100 square feet and mix it into the soil prior to planting.

    I've heard that if you put the tea from old tea bags on hydrangea plants, the blossoms will turn blue or purple. I have four of these plants with pink blossoms, and I was wondering whether the tea would change their color.

    Hydrangea flowers are pink in near-neutral soil and blue in acidic soil. You can change the color of the flowers by changing the pH of the soil. If you have a lot of lime in your soil, the blossoms will be pink. To get blue flowers, you need to lower the pH, which you can do by adding sulfur or peat moss to the soil. Adding tea, which contains tannic acid, also might bring on the blue color.

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